On the heels of the completed renovation/restoration of Tulsa’s Holy Family Cathedral, dotCommonweal reports that Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa will re-orient clergy at the celebration of Mass. The diocesan magazine headlines “Multiple advantages,” to ad orientam posture. But in the text that follows, I count only two. It’s not surprising there are so few arguments in favor of it. I think the bishop has lost his direction a little. From his article:
In the last 40 years…this shared orientation was lost; now the priest and the people have become accustomed to facing in opposite directions. The priest faces the people while the people face the priest, even though the Eucharistic Prayer is directed to the Father and not to the people.
That’s a curious interpretation of what I had always understood to be a radial orientation to Christ at the center of worship, not Christ partially hidden behind voluminous vestments and murmured proclamations.
This innovation was introduced after the Vatican Council, partly to help the people understand the liturgical action of the Mass by allowing them to see what was going on, and partly as an accommodation to contemporary culture where people who exercise authority are expected to face directly the people they serve, like a teacher sitting behind her desk.
I think the bishop is stretching with his second interpretation. Liturgical citation, please.
Unfortunately this change had a number of unforeseen and largely negative effects. First of all, it was a serious rupture with the Church’s ancient tradition. Secondly, it can give the appearance that the priest and the people were engaged in a conversation about God, rather than the worship of God. Thirdly, it places an inordinate importance on the personality of the celebrant by placing him on a kind of liturgical stage.
A few things here:
The suggestion that greater visibility and intelligibility, especially for the Eucharistic Prayer, has been largely negative is incredible.
You can bet that even though you’ll see the back of the bishop and his clergy at Holy Family, you’ll still hear them through the sound reinforcement system–another rupture with tradition, by the way.
I don’t think Bishop Slattery can suggest seriously that liturgy is about conversation rather than worship. It’s a subjective interpretation that the liturgy’s built-in dialogues are not some aspect of worship rather than conversation. One doesn’t have conversations when one party is mic’ed and the others aren’t.
Granted that the staging of liturgy as performance isn’t a problem still with us after Vatican II. Working against the cult of personality has always been with us, and must always be resisted. Rather than subdue the personality of the presider through effective training, what Bishop Slattery has done is to proclaim, “Look at me! I no longer face you. But trust me, Jesus is really present here … somewhere.”